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Home Inspections Are Key Part of the Real Estate Deal

AP Real Estate Writer

MIAMI (AP) _ Paola Reyes needed a set of expert eyes to investigate her new home, a foreclosure that was on the market for just a few days before she snatched it up.

Reyes could tell that the refrigerator and stove were missing, but she needed someone to look for other, possibly hidden things that needed replacing or repair. So she hired a home inspector, who, after a 2 1/2-hour investigation, found that part of the roof needed fixing, eight light fixtures were missing and the attic insulation was a possible fire hazard.

"In my mind, I didn't want it to be like going to the mechanic where I have no idea what's going on with the car, and I'm coming in and they're telling me all these things that are wrong, and I don't know," said Reyes, who agreed on a price of $475,000 for a four 3,885 square foot home that sold for $1.2 million in the boom year of 2006.

"I'm not a professional. It was more for guidance and to make sure I don't get ripped off."

For around $400, Reyes hired Miami-area inspector Angel Calle, who earned certification from the American Society of Home Inspectors after completing 250 inspections and passing an exam.

Buyers, frankly, would be foolish to bypass a home inspection on a foreclosed home they're interested in. The homes can sit empty for several months, leading to problems ranging from major roof leaks to mold to malfunctioning water heaters.

Also, people who leave foreclosed homes behind often take major appliances, and also have been known to remove light fixtures, electrical wiring and other things that take time and money to replace.

"The inspection challenges of a foreclosed home are greater," said Dan Steward, president of home inspection franchise Pillar to Post. "Some people leave their home in very serious disrepair to the point where we have seen houses where they yanked out the copper piping and the electrical wiring. Just pulled it through the drywall."

Reyes said she expected to find problems that need repair, but wanted to get a sense of what needs fixing right away and what can wait.

Calle started outside, finding a corroded, rusted column among the five that hold up the roof over a large covered patio. He found that the swimming pool needs resurfacing (estimated cost: $2,500) and a new drain cover, some gutters need to be reattached, and landscaping needs to be trimmed away from the home.

But he was surprised to find some positives, such as a perfectly fine sprinkler system for the large yard, and an air conditioning compressor that's in good condition.

Calle used a ladder to climb onto the roof, and he immediately saw that the roof is made up of two sections _ one primary roof with clay tiles that seem in good health for the next five years, and a secondary roof made up of rolled roofing paper that needs replacing.

"The major issue with the house is the secondary roof covering," he told Reyes, adding that the cost of fixing the 2,100 square foot roof would be around $12,000.

Inside, the inspector noted brownish marks on the ceiling _ where one part of the roof meets the other _ that indicate a water leak. He ran all the faucets and turned on lights to check the plumbing and electricity situation, which were in order. But he noticed that an improperly placed shower door was causing water to escape, and the master bathroom's bathtub had no access to the motor that runs the jets.

"If something does happen to the motor, you do have to break the tile to get in," he said.

Calle continued, finding that coils in the home's two air conditioning systems need cleaning. Eight light fixtures were missing, and would cost an estimated $600 to replace, Calle said.

In the attic, he noticed that fiberglass insulation was too close to a high-hat light fixture, so he recommended cutting the insulation and using a metal retention ring around the high-hat to reduce the fire danger. He also looked for evidence of termites and rodents, but found none.

The baseboards in the garage had been removed, and the washer and dryer, refrigerator and stove were all missing.

He used some interesting tools along the way, including a device that can tell whether a power outlet works, and another that can tell if moisture has accumulated in walls. Calle checked if all the windows open and close and whether they leak.

Calle noted that the house seems to be in relatively good health for a foreclosure. The electrical and plumbing systems, two of the most expensive things to fix and replace, were working well.

During the briefing, Calle discussed his findings with Reyes and Jaramillo, showed them digital pictures, and handed them a guide that gives estimates for residential remodeling and construction costs. Calle regularly talks with plumbers, roofers, electricians and the like to educate himself on prices of repair projects.

He did note that county records indicate the home is a three bedroom, two-bath, but it's actually a four bedroom, three-bath house. Calle advised, "You should contact the local building department to verify permits prior to closing."